Just before school started for the term, Jin arrived from China.
His mum and dad bought the fruit and vegetable shop.
They moved into the flat behind.
At the same time, Barry arrived from the South Island.
His mum and dad bought the bakery.
They moved in upstairs.
Jin helped his mum and dad put out the fruit and vegetables.
Barry helped his mum and dad put out the cakes and pies.
The two shops opened on the same Saturday.
Barry and Jin started school together on Monday.
The school was close to the shops.
“Good morning, Room 2. We have two new pupils today.
Barry has just moved up from Dunedin and Jin comes from Canton.”
Barry and Jin didn’t look at anyone.
They both felt shy.
When the lunch bell rang, Mrs Hurinui smiled at Barry and Jin.
“Since you both live close by you are allowed to go home for lunch. Don’t forget to come back before the bell rings at 1:00 though.”
The two boys nodded and walked out to the road.
“Hello,” said Barry. “I’m Barry.”
“Hello,” said Jin, copying what Barry said.
“Jim,” said Barry. “So you’re new too.”
Pretty soon, everyone was calling Jin “Jim”.
“Do like being called ‘Jim’?” Jin’s mum asked.
Jin nodded yes. He liked Barry.
“Okay,” his mum and dad said. “We’ll call you ‘Jim” too. That can be your New Zealand name.
“Could Barry come home for lunch with me one day?” asked Jim.
Jim’s mum looked at Jim’s dad.
Jim’s dad looked at Jim’s mum.
They were pleased that Jim had a friend.
They both nodded.
“You can invite him to come next week. We’ll talk to his parents.”
So on Monday, Barry didn’t go home to the bakery for lunch.
He went home with Jim instead.
Behind the fruit and the vegetables and the cash register there was a bead curtain. Behind the bead curtain there was a world Barry had never seen before.
There were blue cups and Chinese newspapers.
There were soy sauce and chop sticks.
There were bags of rice and two ducks sitting in a cage.
Barry had never had chai chow fan before.
He’d never eaten with chop sticks.
Jim showed him how.
Barry loved the taste of the fried rice Jim’s mum had made.
He held his bowl the same way Jim and his mum did.
It was easy.
The next day, Jim went to the bakery for lunch.
“Pick what you want,” said Barry’s dad. “Barry’s mum is making cocoa upstairs.
Jim picked out the same things Barry did.
Then they took their hot pies and cream buns upstairs.
Barry’s mum smiled and put three mugs of cocoa on the table.
“I’ve got to look after the shop,” she said. “I’ll be back in a bit. Will you two be okay?”
Barry put tomato sauce on his mince pie.
So did Jim.
Barry took a bite.
So did Jim.
The mince pie was the strangest thing
Jim had ever tasted.
He liked it. He took another bite.
Barry showed Jim how to take one bite of mince pie, one bite of cream bun, and a sip of cocoa and then swallow.
“That’s disgusting!” laughed Barry’s dad when he came up with his lunch. “Don’t let Mum catch you!”
Then he did exactly the same.
Jim thought it tasted wonderful.
After that, Barry and Jim took turns having lunch at each other’s shops.
Behind the fruit and vegetable shop Barry grew to love Chinese food, though he was a bit sad about the ducks.
And Jim fell in love with hot pies with tomato sauce and cream buns and apple turnovers.
He especially liked potato top.
Slowly, Jim learned the names of things in English.
Barry learned how to say some things in Cantonese, which was the kind of Chinese that Jim spoke.
And they never stopped being best friends.
This story is dedicated to Jim Lai (28 May 1949 - 10 December 2004).
With thanks to Barry and Jim’s family, whose story this really is. Thank you all for giving me permission to tell it.
There are now as many people in New Zealand of Asian ancestry as people of Pacific Islands descent. People of Chinese descent form the largest group.
© Don Long
Read our interview with Don Long.